I make no apology for my absence; I spent a fortnight in Rome on holiday. And I decided to make the holiday fundamental: I wrote not a word, other than for a few I wrote on a postcard. But a postcard can only be written on holiday, so this was not a breach of my mantra.
Almost immediately (five days) after returning from the holiday I started writing this entry, but it became so unwieldy that I had to take two weeks to reflect and to purchase new cycling equipment. After reflection and cycling I have returned to this unwiedly diary with a plan to split it into three. 1: Rome (corporeal), 2. Rome (incorporeal), and 3. Other (etc.) So, me being, generally, a chronological person, this is Part 1.
The first thing that you will notice when you descend upon Rome from the air is that it has a nice terracotta appearance. The first thing you notice when your boots are upon the ground is that there are armed soldiers and police positioned all over the place. Anywhere there is a grand doorway, regardless of what is behind it, you will find two armed humans. It is surprising how quickly you get used to this.
There are many other things to look at in Rome. You can stroll aimlessly and around almost every corner you will find an ancient and wonderful construction. Some of the best things we saw were the Trevi fountain (we stayed nearby and walked past, I think, five times—it really is a thing to behold), Gianicolo hill, from which you can enjoy incredible views over Rome and to the surrounding mountains, the highest of which is about 1200 metres—almost as high a Ben Nevis. Piazza Navone was the best piazza, although the surrounding bars and restaurants gave off all the scent of being shady tourist traps. I believe this piazza used to be a chariot racing stadium. The Colosseum obviously has to be seen due to its great fame—it is very interesting, and the fact it has been semi rebuilt at least three times makes it quite strange to look at. The Pantheon was incredible. I feel that everyone should visit this; one of the greatest works of ancient engineering that exist, surely. Along with the pyramids I guess. Hands up, I know fuck all about ancient engineering and I strongly suggest any students of ancient engineering do not include this blog in a footnote in their dissertations.
Before I went on holiday I shaved my head for the first time in probably a decade. I also took to wearing stubble. My new look is unbelievably low maintenance. I don’t know if I can ever go back. I was pleased to note that many Italian men opt for the same haircut and beard. Alongside Steph, my Latin American girlfriend, many people assumed we were Italian and asked us directions. At least, I assume that is what they were asking for.
Indeed, all this being spoken to in an unintelligible language put me in the mind of Steph’s father, who is forever slapping me on the back while speaking Spanish over my shoulder and laughing. “I’m going to own your house one day,” is what I am going to say, quickly in my most Glaswegian accent, the next time he does this, I decided. I told Steph this, and then I encouraged her not to throw her wine over me. I was, and remain, most grateful for her rare display of discretion.
In all honesty, despite not having the language, I feel very much an Italian. It took a few days to get the ropes, but once you have the hang of it, it is really quite fantastic. When you wake in the morning, what you do is you nip into a tabaccheria and enjoy a cornetto (I prefer crema, but the nutella is also good) and a cappuccino, at a cost of around (like, genuinely) £1.50. And, obviously, this shit blows Starbucks away in terms of quality. It goes without saying, the Italians know how to do coffee. I also know how to do coffee. A hint: there should never be a whole pint of milk in a coffee.
In the afternoon, as a temporary Italian, I liked to lunch on a pizza slice and an enormous bottle of Moretti or Peroni. One of the great things about Rome is that drinking beer is not thought of as a sordid activity, and you are very welcome to drink your beer and eat your pizza slice in the piazza, perhaps on the steps surrounding an ancient fountain or statue. On one particularly good day, we had Moretti and ciabattini in the botanic gardens in Trastevere. Despite being a gloriously sunny day, there were no drink fuelled riots such as would have been expected on a similar day in the parks of Glasgow.
After lying in the sun by the pool for a few hours, or perhaps watching Giro d’Italia in our quarters, with perhaps another humungous Moretti, we would eventually venture out for dinner at 8 or 9. Almost every restaurant we visited was excellent. The main exception was the first restaurant we visited. We had got lost in the shopping area and didn’t see a single restaurant for half an hour, by which time we were starved. We foolishly went into the first place we saw, and were ripped off abysmally. It was 22 E for the wine, about 18 E for each dish, and they whacked on a 17% service charge. And the food was bad. Basically, we were idiots. After leaving, we strolled past about a thousand attractive eateries during the five minutes or so that it took to walk to the Spanish Steps.
It is very easy to eat well in Rome for not a lot of cash. You can easily find a litre of wine for between 8 and 12 euros. Not quite fine wine, but when you are eating out every day for two weeks, thoroughly adequate. Start with an antipasto—salami, cheeses and olives will set you back 8-15 euros for two (and you may be too full to eat your main course). For the main course you have to sample all of the Roman pasta staples: amatriciana (tomato, pancetta, pecorino and chilli), carbonara, cacao e pepe (cheese and pepper) and polpette (meatballs). All of these can be had for 8 – 12 E. If you want to spend more, veal is also readily available. We often found our diet to be lacking in vegetables, so if you want to eat these you are best to order a side salad or some roasted vegetables.
Other things that I liked about Rome included:
- cigarettes can still be viewed in tobacconists, and they are still sold in branded packets
- you can see the Pope every Sunday and Wednesday; he appears at a distant window in the Vatican and can be heard to say ‘particulare’ (and a lot more if you understand Italiano)
- there was an exceptional row in the hotel room next to us one night. It was so good that I couldn’t help but find myself holding a glass to the wall, which I must have seen in a spy movie. I can report that this doesn’t work as well as all that. The next day we got a decent eavesdrop on the aftermath, which played itself out in the corridor aside hotel staff with walky talkies. We listened with glee as the man cheerily told the women that she was a real bitch to him the night before and he was happy to pay for the extra room and it was over and no, nothing was okay. I considered opening the door in my dressing gown to have a look but could think of no sensible excuse, and I also didn’t have a dressing gown.
All in all, I can’t recommend Rome highly enough.